The Feast of the Seven Fishes

tableGrowing up in a large family, we celebrated every holiday to the fullest and had many traditions.  Christmas Eve was and still is one of my favorite family traditions and one that I want to share with all of you. There is something very special about this day and has left me with vivid memories as a child and I still look forward to Christmas Eve every year. It is not about the gifts and getting to bed early waiting for Santa, it is actually the total opposite.  As a family Christmas Eve has always focused on cooking and enjoying a long evening of feasting.  

The feast of the seven fishes is a tradition that I thought everyone celebrated on Christmas Eve until I got older and realized this was an Italian tradition and a very special one! The origin of The Seven Fishes comes from the Roman Catholic Church to fast during Holy Week.  This fasting later turned into feasting with an abundance of food and celebration.  No one knows the exact meaning behind the specific number seven, but it is thought to come from the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church .

Leading up to Christmas Eve, the menu preparation of this Southern Italian tradition is quite elaborate.  Every family has a variety of seafood dishes but there are some that are more common and other that are family favorites. The dishes that sit at our table have been with us for many years: stuffed lobster tails, whole red snapper, clams and pasta, seafood salad, baccala in red sauce, garlic shrimp and mussels in a white wine sauce. It is very important to choose seafood that is fresh and can be purchased at your local gourmet grocer. Most of the seafood I found this year was purchased from Central Market, but can also be found at any local seafood market. Baccala is one of the more uncommon seafood dishes, it is also known as salted cod and sold in a slab form. The history of Baccala shows the importance of the preserved fish for an inexpensive meal when fresh fish could not be found. Because the fish is preserved it must be soaked for at least 3 days before cooking and can be found is very specialty shops or can even be found and shipped through amazon.com. Although it is a long process and more difficult to find, it is absolutely worth making!

As I had the opportunity to prepare every dish with my uncle, Mario Sorrentino, I felt the love for this holiday more than ever. Mario moved to Dallas 12 years ago from New York but was born and raised in Naples, Italy. He has shared so many wonderful and authentic recipes from his home town and we love having them at our table every year. I look forward to continuing this Christmas Eve tradition for my family and I hope you will share it with yours.lobster

Baked Lobster Tails
(serves 6 people)
Ingredients:
6 4-5 ounce Lobster Tails
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
12 Tbsp Butter, divided for each lobster

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Cut the top of the shell along the whole lobster tail with scissor and then using a knife make the cut deeper into the flesh and remove the vein
Combine bread crumbs, garlic powder, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix to combine
Fill the lobster tail cavity with the breadcrumb mixture
Place 2 tbsp of butter on top of each lobster tail
Wrap each tail in aluminum foil and place a sheet pan
Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes
Once lobster is cooked through remove from the foil and serve immediately

seafood salad

Seafood Salad
(serves 6 people)
Ingredients:
8 Cups Water
1/2 Cup White Vinegar
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
1 1/2 lb. Large Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb. Sea Scallops, cut in half
1 1/4 lb. Mussels, cleaned
2 lbs Squid Tubes
1 lb. Crab Meat, cooked

Sauce:
1 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Fresh Thyme Leaves
1 tsp Garlic, minced
Zest of 2 Lemons
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
2 Tbsp Champagne Vinegar
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Parsley, chopped
1/4 Cup Celery, chopped
1/4 Red Bell Pepper, sliced thin

Instructions:
In a large sauce pan, combine 8 cups water, vinegar and salt and bring to a boil
Rinse and cut squid tubes into 2” pieces and place in boiling water for 2 minutes
Remove squid from boiling water and place in a large bowl (save water)
Bring water back to a boil and add shrimp and boil for 2 minutes or until cooked through
Remove shrimp and add to bowl with squid (save water)
Bring water back to a boil and add scallops and cook for 4 minutes or until cooked through
Remove scallops from water and add to bowl with squid and shrimp
You may discard water at this point
In a sauté pan, steam the mussels until they open and remove the mussel from the shell and place in the bowl with all other seafood
Make sure to drain seafood again to remove any additional water
Add crab meat to bowl with seafood and gently stir to combine

Prepare the Sauce:
In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm olive oil
Add thyme, garlic and lemon zest to the olive oil and cook over low heat for 1 minute
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and champagne vinegar
Pour the hot vinaigrette over the seafood and add in the chopped celery and parsley
Gently toss the seafood salad and garnish with fresh parsley and slice bell peppers

red snapper

Baked Whole Red Snapper
(serves 4 people)
Ingredients:
1 3 lb. Whole Red Snapper
1 Lemon, Sliced
2 sprigs of Thyme

Sauce
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Capers
1 Large Shallot, Chopped
1 tsp Fresh Thyme
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper
Scale and gut the whole fish
Place the fish on a lined sheet pan and season the cavity of the fish with sliced lemons and thyme sprigs
Score the top of the fish and season with salt and pepper, olive oil and arrange lemon slices around the fish; bake for 30-40 minutes
Prepare the sauce: heat olive oil in a sauté pan and add the chopped shallots, capers and thyme. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper
Once fish is fully baked, remove the skin from the fish and place on a serving dish with sauce covering the top

mussels

Mussels in White Wine Sauce
(serves 4 people)
Ingredients:
2 lbs Mussels
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
6 Tbsp Butter, Unsalted
1/2 Cup Shallots, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Cup White Wine
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper

Instructions:
Clean mussels: place in a large bowl and soak for 30 minutes; Remove any mussels that are already open.
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter. Add shallots and thyme leaves and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the white wine and reduce the liquid to half.
Once the wine is reduced add the mussels into the wine reduction and season with salt and pepper.
Cover the pan and simmer over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until mussels open completely (discard any that do not open).
Pour the mussels and sauce into a large serving dish and enjoy with toasted baguette.

garlic shrimp

Garlic Shrimp
(serves 4 people)
Ingredients:
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, sliced thin
1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 lb. Large Shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail on
1 Tbsp Butter, unsalted
Salt and pepper

Instructions:
In a large skillet, heat olive oil
Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook until garlic is fragrant and golden
Add shrimp to olive oil and cook until shrimp are opaque
Add butter and stir until shrimp are fully coated
Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh parsley
Serve immediately

clams and pasta

Spaghetti with Clams
(serves 4 people)
Ingredients:
2 lbs Littleneck Clams
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
4 Garlic Cloves
1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 Cups White Wine
1 Tbsp Fresh Parsley, Chopped
1 lb Spaghetti, Cooked

Instructions:
1. Soak and scrub the clams in water for 30 minutes to remove the sand
2. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil
3. Add garlic and red pepper flakes to oil until garlic is soft and fragrant
4. Add white wine to garlic and simmer until half of the liquid is evaporated
5. Add clams to the white wine mixture and steam until clams have opened completely
6. Sprinkle the clams with fresh parsley and toss over cooked spaghetti
7. Serve immediately

baccala

Baccala Stew
(serves 4 people)
Ingredients:
1 lb Salted Cod (Baccala), soaked
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, chopped
1/2 Large Yellow Onion, sliced
1 Celery Stalk
2 Large Carrots
4 Yukon Gold Potatoes 1 Can (15 oz) Crushed Tomatoes
1/4 tsp Oregano, dried
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Water

Instructions:
Soak Salted Cod in water for a minimum of 5 days, changing the water 3 times per day before using
Cut salted cod into 2” pieces
Chop the onions, celery, and carrots into 2” pieces and peel and slice potatoes in half
In a large sauté pan heat olive oil and add onions and garlic until soft and fragrant
Add crushed tomatoes, carrots, celery, potatoes, oregano and 1 1/2 cups of water to onions and garlic; simmer for 15 minutes
Add the salted cod to tomato mixture and simmer until cod is tender, approximately 15 minutes
Season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh parsley
Serve immediately

All recipes have been featured in The Dallas Morning News!  

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Comments

  1. trish says

    I read your story in the DMN and would love to make some of the dishes. Where, or where, do you find fresh seafood in Dallas. Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Trish! Thank you for reading my story and our family tradition. I bought a lot of the seafood at Central Market, but you can also purchase at Whole Foods or specialty seafood markets like Rex’s Seafood (lovers and Inwood) or TJ’s Seafood Market (Preston Royal). Good luck and I can’t wait to hear how it all turns out! Happy Holidays

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